Theatre Review


Home Reviewers






Turf Love presents

Beating Berlusconi!

Paul Duckworth in Beating Berlusconi! at King's Head


Written by John Graham Davies


Directed by Matt Rutter


King’s Head Theatre


8 June – 4 July 2010






A review by Richard J Thornton for EXTRA! EXTRA!


Beating Berlusconi is a charming one-man comedy that charts the journey of a dole-ridden Scouser, desperate to attend the 2005 Champions League final in Istanbul. Kenny Noonan (Paul Duckworth), a from-birth fan of Liverpool FC, has a pregnant wife, two kids, a pile of debt, and a drunken Cousin Billy who’s covering his shop, but he just has to be there. Or does he? He’s not a kid anymore, he’s got responsibility, and after the horror of Hillsborough, can he justify spending his last few pennies on a dying dream? 

As the title suggests, this play is more about political upheaval than the importance of football. Although Berlusconi only appears in the closing ten minutes, his fascist presence is felt throughout. The only break from Duckworth’s energetic monologue comes from projected stills and video, most not focussing on football, but rather excerpts from political riots and Tory election losses. This relief strengthens the themes of the play, and allow the audience breathing space before the next onslaught of Liverpudlian wit.

The true beauty of this show rests with Duckworth’s performance. His ability to morph between his characters is seamless, often denoting who he embodies via a single stance: the crossed arms of Marie, Kenny’s wife; or the hunchbacked sneer of Minty, his boyhood chum turned dealer. His acting has a magnetism which resembles the power of a space-ship tractor beam or a hypnotising wizard, it is so engrossing we need not suspend any disbelief, we’re connected and we’re in for a ride.

Duckworth’s physicality is a masterstroke, as he sweats through his white Marks and Sparks long-sleeve everyman shirt, the outlined archetype of a spirited socialist fighter is given body and colour. We succumb to his frantic charisma, we believe in the socialist words of Kenny’s father’s hero - Bill Shankly: ‘...everyone working for each other, everyone having a share in the rewards’. And this performance affirms this tenet - Duckworth, through a brilliant script and precision directing, builds camaraderie between himself and the audience which candidly reflects Liverpool’s own fraternal anthem, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’.

Contextually, the play comes at a perfect time. As the coalition Tory-led government takes form, the show is ripe to question both the Conservative and Labour mishaps of the last thirty years, and makes no apologies doing so. The anger at Thatcher, much abetted by the audience, was visceral, and the revel at Portillo’s seat-loss in the ’97 election smug enough to force those, like myself, who can’t remember it, to imagine the sense of justice felt.

Beating Berlusconi is really about the battle between the battered individual and the vampire state, a round up of the working class’s acrimonious relationship with the British government. The symbolic meeting of Berlusconi and Kenny is a David-Goliath climax; the common man’s temporary but euphoric triumph will last, for him anyway, a lifetime. It is moments like this which give him the strength to turn his back on the crippling expense of his childish obsession, football, and focus his time on more honourable pursuits. He can return to his wife and kids with the story to tell, and the memory will last forever.

The intimacy of The King’s Head’s is well suited to the production, with its’ bare, moveable set designed by Mike Wight – two chairs and table never interfered, and acted as a pragmatic tool for Duckworth to conduct. The lighting was more akin to that of a stand-up comedy gig than a mood theatre, but nothing than flat white light was needed. Duckworth created all the tension and atmosphere physically, and any paraphernalia would have been an unwanted distraction.

It’s clear from the movement of the production that the director has a strong relationship with the actor, and even clearer in the programme where it states he’s ‘me mate’. The writing calls for a gritty, versatile actor and Duckworth manoeuvres John Graham Davies’s script like a kid on the back streets of Kirkby. The three talents bond into a cohesive production which spans domestic upset to political unrest, notwithstanding the familiar backdrop of football to allow a structure with a natural crescendo.

But you don’t have to be a football fan to enjoy this spectacle, nor do you need intimate knowledge of the European City of Culture (yep, that’s Liverpool), all you need is an open heart and a love for the human soul. If you like your comedy backlit with darker political shades, and don’t mind the odd socialist rant, Paul Duckworth’s energy as Kenny, and as all the other 15 characters, will see you warmly through the evening. If you are a Liverpool fan, and an anti-Thatcherite, you may want to book a seat for every night of the run.


Box Office: 0844 209 0326

The King’s Head Theatre
115 Upper Street, Islington, London, N1

Tuesday to Saturday at 7.30pm.
No evening performance on Saturday 12 & Friday 18 June
Extra performance - Monday 14th June at 7.30pm
Matinees - Saturdays and Sundays at 2.30pm
Tickets:            £13.50 (£10 conc/£20 reserved)




Copyright © EXTRA! EXTRA All rights reserved





Home Reviewers